Olympic swimmers like Caeleb Dressel have both gold medals and multiple tattoos. How do they do it? No, we’re not talking about the hours of practice and dedication. We’re wondering about how they have time to get tattooed and recover before getting back in the water. How long after a tattoo can you swim?
Medical professionals will tell you to avoid swimming until after your tattoo is healed. How do you know when it’s healed? The skin will be unbroken and the scabs will be gone. This may take as long as two or three weeks (1).
Still, there are tons of people who say they only took a few days off or went swimming eight days after a tattoo. If so, simply slathering on Vaseline or Aquaphor is not going to keep your tattoo safe. We recommend wrapping the tattoo with a waterproof bandage like the ones below.
Saniderm Tattoo Aftercare Bandage
Compared to SecondSkin, Saniderm’s transparent breathable bandage is affordable and easy to use. You can get it in different roll sizes or as precut patches.
How do you use a waterproof bandage? Wait a few hours after leaving the studio before you touch your tattoo. Wash your hands first then unwrap the skin. Next, wash the tattoo with antimicrobial soap (or mild, fragrance-free soap) and pat it dry with a clean paper towel. We suggest paper towels instead of cloth towels because they are less likely to leave little fibers behind and because it prevents cross-contamination from using the same towel over and over.
If you need to trim the bandage, sanitize your scissors with alcohol, and don’t peel off the backing until after you’ve cut it. Leave about an inch of overlap on the skin beyond the borders of the tattoo so that you get a nice, tight seal. Obviously, if it’s a sleeve tattoo, encircle the arm or leg completely with the bandage and leave a little overlap.
Now, you should be protected if you must submerge the tattoo. However, we highly recommend removing the bandage and washing the tattoo as soon as possible after exposing it to water. We’ll explain why in a moment.
Tegaderm Transparent Dressing
Tegaderm is used for wound care in hospitals because it’s hypoallergenic to prevent rashes and skin reactions. It comes in individual pre-cut sizes or on a roll that can be trimmed. Although it has an adhesive surface, it doesn’t hurt to pull off the skin or leave a residue.
Just as you would with any other waterproof bandage, wash your hands first and then clean the tattoo. Pat the skin dry with a fresh paper towel and let it air out for a few minutes to avoid trapping moisture under the bandage.
Now, pool off the backing and smooth the dressing over the tattoo without stretching it. Pull off the backing as you press down the edges. Leave an inch of extra bandage beyond the borders of the tattoo to make sure it’s sealed tightly and water can’t get in while you’re swimming.
If you don’t use the bandage for swimming, you can leave it on for a few days straight. Think of the work that will save you because you won’t have to wash and moisturize your tattoo during that time.
How to waterproof a tattoo for swimming
Some collectors say they’ve gone swimming after merely slathering on some Vaseline. We think that the terrible idea for three reasons. First, your tattoo could get infected especially if you’re soaking in the bath or swimming in freshwater like a river or lake. Sepsis from a skin infection can kill you, plus there are threats like flesh-eating bacteria (2).
Then, there’s the ocean. Have you ever poured salt into an open wound? Ouch.
Even swimming in a chlorinated pool is a bad idea because it’s going to sting and irritate the skin. As long as your tattoo is red, peeling, or scabby, please don’t go swimming. Just wait a couple of weeks or even a month to be sure. Products like the one below are tattoo aftercare ointments to help you heal, not protect your tattoo from a dunk in the pool.
A+D Tattoo Skin Moisturizing Ointment
Beloved by tattoo artists and collectors around the world, this ointment is enriched with pro-vitamin B5, beeswax, and almond oil to promote faster healing. It’s an updated formula that’s a bit different from the regular A+D although it still contains lanolin, mineral oil, and petrolatum.
In fact, it’s those last three ingredients that make it a bit greasy and water-resistant. Unfortunately, lanolin is a potential irritant for sensitive skin.
Although this isn’t our favorite product, we’re aware of lots of people who use it for the first couple of days after getting a tattoo.
Can you go swimming with a tattoo after one week?
One collegiate swimmer posted that he takes a week off when he gets a tattoo. While that might lead you to believe that it’s safe to go swimming after a week, it’s best if you wait another week until the scabs have fallen off and the skin is smooth and whole. If all fails, please use a waterproof dressing like Tegaderm or Saniderm (see above).
Can I go to the beach after getting a tattoo?
Sure, you can go to the beach after you get a tattoo – just wait until it’s healed. It’ll take at least two weeks if not longer.
Tattoos on the lower part of the body heal a little slower than those closer to the heart. And those that are saturated with color take longer than script and outlines.
A similar question is how long after a tattoo can you go in the sun. The same rule applies. Please don’t expose your new ink to direct sunlight. Let your skin heal then wear sunscreen to keep the colors bright.
How long after a tattoo can you swim in freshwater?
Freshwater is especially dangerous for a new tattoo. At least in a chlorinated pool the chlorine kills germs. But freshwater is full of all sorts of microbes that would just love to move in and set up house under your skin. The next thing you know, you’re at the hospital with a brutal infection spread throughout your body or worse.
Please avoid swimming in lakes, ponds, and rivers or even soaking in the bathtub until the skin has healed. Yes, it’s going to be three weeks to a month, but just look at that awesome tattoo. It’s worth the wait.
If you’ve gone swimming with a new tattoo, now what?
The first sign of trouble you might see is the ink bubbling from staying wet too long. It may also fade.
Next, if the skin is red, hot, or leaking pus, you’ve got an infection. You might also have a fever, chills, or the vomits if the bacteria is spreading through your body. That’s when you should go to the emergency room ASAP (3).
Less serious would be a rash or itchy, dry skin and your tattoo failing to heal as quickly as it should.
When in doubt, get medical help. At the very least, check with the tattoo studio (that will probably tell you to get medical help).
With all that said, you’ll still need to clean the tattoo after swimming and treat it with some TLC. Start with an antibacterial soap like this one below.
H2Ocean – Blue Green Liquid Soap
H2Ocean makes a foaming cleanser as well as antibacterial liquid soap. We prefer the liquid soap because it’s alcohol-free and doesn’t sting.
Moreover, it’s fragrance-free which is essential for sensitive skin. Since a new tattoo is indeed sensitive, we highly recommend avoiding alcohol, fragrances, and harsh soaps. Leave your body wash aside for after your skin has healed.
The formula features a tiny amount of benzalkonium chloride, a potent antimicrobial agent that prevents infection. It may also help clear up a minor infection and keep you from needing antibiotics or worse.
Reviewers say the soap is soothing and moisturizing. Here’s how to use it.
Wash your hands first with the Blue Green soap. Then use your clean hand to channel lukewarm water on top of the tattoo. It’s not a good idea to hold the tattoo directly under the faucet. Makes some lather and use it to cleanse the skin and remove secretions. Rinse with lukewarm water but not under the faucet and not by submerging the skin.
Gently dry with a clean paper towel and moisturize. Repeat the process morning and night or more often if you sweat or get grimy.
Tattoo Goo Deep Cleansing Soap for Tattoos & Body Piercings
Tattoo Goo also makes an antibacterial soap that’s effective against a wide range of bad news bacteria. It uses hospital-grade PCMX-L and Lauricidin which are potent antimicrobial agents that won’t harm healthy skin cells. In fact, they are a better choice than the benzalkonium chloride found in the H2Ocean soap.
The formula is slightly acidic just like a high-quality body wash and that keeps the skin from drying out when you wash it repeatedly. It rinses easily and leaves the skin feeling extremely clean.
Furthermore, it’s alcohol and fragrance-free to avoid irritation. Be sure to wash with it immediately after swimming to keep the tattoo from getting infected
Ora’s Amazing Herbal Tattoo Salve
Instead of Aquaphor or A+D that contain petroleum, try this herbal salve made with organic plant oils, beeswax, and herbs. Not only does it keep a new tattoo hydrated, it also reduces inflammation and itching. Plus, you can use it on cuts, scrapes, and bites so it’s never a waste of money.
Once your tattoo is healed, use this natural ointment to keep the ink bright. It’s surprisingly less greasy than you’d think and absorbs fairly quickly. Reviewers say that the ointment makes it so healing tattoos are much more comfortable and barely peel.
Lastly, this is a product made by a woman-owned family business in the USA. Since it has essential oils and natural ingredients, it has a pleasant herbal scent but no artificial fragrance. The brand suggests using its calendula salve or Touchy Skin ointment if you prefer an unscented moisturizer.
How to take care of a tattoo so that you can go swimming as soon as possible
The best thing you can do for your tattoo is to keep it clean and moisturized so that the skin can heal rapidly.
You can go the traditional route of dry healing which means washing and moisturizing the tattoo at least twice a day, but not using bandages. Or you can try wet healing which means leaving a tattoo aftercare bandage in place for a few days. It saves time because you don’t have to constantly wash and put on ointment, plus it protects the tattoo from accidental injury and getting wet.
In any case, here are our favorite tattoo aftercare products. Stock up before you get inked:
|The best tattoo aftercare products (if you must go swimming)||Why you need them|
|Saniderm Tattoo Aftercare Bandage||
|Tegaderm Transparent Dressing||
|A+D Tattoo Skin Moisturizing Ointment||
|H2Ocean - Blue Green Liquid Soap||
|Tattoo Goo Deep Cleansing Soap for Tattoos & Body Piercings||
|Ora's Amazing Herbal Tattoo Salve||
1. https://www.usms.org/fitness-and-training/articles-and-videos/articles/how-long-should-i-wait-to-swim-after-getting-a-tattoo by Kelly O’Mara, published November 26, 2019
2. Dieckmann R, et al. (2016). The risk of bacterial infection after tattooing. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5290255/
3. Tattoos: 7 unexpected skin reactions and what to do about them. (2017). aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-basics/tattoos/tattoo-skin-reactions